Why The Benefits Of Reading On Paper May Be Greater Than Reading On Screen

Lifestyle & Health

The development of technology over the last few decades has resulted in a variety of devices granting public access to huge volumes of information 24/7. Smartphones, tablets, and e-book readers are considered an excellent alternative to paper books, or even a better option since they are so convenient.

If this is true, is there any difference between obtaining information from books and electronic devices? The research aimed at finding this out yields surprising results.

Is there any difference in perceiving and processing information?

A 2013 study in Norway examined two groups of students who were given a task of reading two texts of about 1400-2000 words. The first group had to read this material from paper-based sources, the second viewed it as PDFs on the computer screen.

The students then proceeded to complete a series of tests in order for the study to find out if there was any difference in perceiving the material they had just read.

The students who read the texts on paper scored significantly better than those who read the same texts digitally, and their reading speed was higher as well. We can argue that habit and attitude may be important, but researchers explain this by the fact that paper-based sources provide spatiotemporal markers when you read. Turning and touching pages aids the memory, while scrolling on the computer screen doesn't have the same effect.

Does reading from a screen pose any health risks?

New inventions certainly delight us with ways of simplifying or diversifying our lives, but they usually cause new concerns to emerge – related and unrelated, actual and imaginary.

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Computer vision syndrome

This a term naming not a single specific problem, but a number of eye and vision-related problems and discomfort resulting from digital screen use. Sometimes also referred to as Digital Eye Strain, it is very common nowadays due to a prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and smartphone use. Computer vision syndrome is a condition with symptoms including headaches and fatigue, blurred vision, as well as red, strained, and dry eyes.

To help alleviate digital eye strain, close your eyes or look away from the screen every now and then, or follow the 20-20-20 rule recommended by experts: take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes. This allows your eyes to refocus. You can also try to blink often to keep your eyes moist or use special eye drops to avoid dryness and irritation.

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iPad neck

This is another common set of symptoms caused by the new generation of mobile devices. Theoretically, tablet devices are revolutionary products allowing people to use them in different positions. However, according to research, the crucial factor happens to be not the positions, but certain head angles used when people look at these devices, especially when used on a lap or flat on a desk.

Given the freedom to move around, they prefer to sit still with their tablet on their lap, which forces them to look down while adopting unnatural neck angles and causes "text neck" or "iPad neck" symptoms. Instead, experts recommend getting a case with a built-in stand for easy adjustment of the screen, propping it up and positioning it at a variety of viewing angles. Taking regular breaks and shifting your position often is also highly recommended.

Another problem mobile devices cause that books don't is screen-related sleeplessness. Since the blue light of the screen is found to suppress the body’s production of melatonin, doctors advise stopping using these devices 1,5-2 hours before bedtime, otherwise their screens may disturb your sleep. Switching to ‘night mode’ in your reading app is another option, or installing one that makes the color of the display warmer.

Given the results of different studies, we can hardly stay overly enthusiastic about the convenience of reading from the screen. The ways e-readers and other mobile devices cause people to spend hours hunched over them, make these a pain in the neck rather than a great alternative to reading from paper sources. What do you think?

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This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.

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